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Richard Pryor and what he meant to us
Pryor & PETA
By Lisa Lange
December 18, 2005

Richard Pryor was known for his biting humor that was both uproariously funny and poignantly insightful, for his unfettered use of language and for his Hollywood comedies. But we at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were privileged to know another side to Mr. Pryor.

For the last decade, he generously supported our campaigns, wrote letters and opinion pieces and appeared in advertisements. He made a point of being available when we needed help in drawing attention to abused animals. In 1999, we had the pleasure of honoring him with a Humanitarian Award at a gala celebration in Hollywood.

What we appreciated and loved about this generous man was his keen sense of justice. It was not enough for him to use his sharp humor to fight racial stereotypes. He wanted to end exploitation of all species. He hated oppression, whether the victims had two legs or four. Just last month he wrote of his disappointment in a black-owned circus and drew a clear comparison between the animals and his own ancestors:

"They were brought out of Africa and into chains in America. Or they were born into slavery here. Yes, I am talking about the first African-Americans to reach these shores, but I am also describing the animals now enslaved in circuses. The species and continents are different, but the stories are tragically similar.

"The animals in circuses are held against their will by chains and domination," he continued. "They are forced to perform a series of acts by coercion and violence because they would never normally do these things on their own. They can never choose their own partners, their own homes, their own food or have control over any aspect of their lives. I don't care how this is dressed up by promoters with music and lights, it is still slavery."

Mr. Pryor helped PETA bring about groundbreaking improvements in the way animals are raised and slaughtered for Burger King, Wendy's, Safeway and other fast-food and grocery outlets. He sent a letter to a South African court asking the magistrate to impose a maximum sentence on two men convicted of beating 30 young elephants captured from the wild. When he saw video footage showing chickens scalded alive when they were slaughtered for KFC restaurants, he appeared in an ad urging people to join him "in boycotting KFC restaurants until the company agrees to meet PETA's simple demands to eliminate the very worst abuses."

Perhaps most moving was his fervent support of our work to end pointless animal experiments by health charities. His own struggle with multiple sclerosis had a profound effect on his attitude toward medical experimentation. He didn't want to be the excuse for researchers to harm animals and was critical of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for their animal studies.

"Make sure the check you write to a charity doesn't pay for cruel experiments on animals," he warned the public. "Your donation should help end suffering -- not cause it."

In 1999, his Christmas card to friends and family depicted a monkey, mice and other animals running to freedom from a laboratory cage.

Those who knew him personally will miss the man. Those who knew his work will miss the performer. Those of us who saw how much he cared about everyone, regardless of species, will miss his compassion.

Lisa Lange is vice president of communications for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.